1-AA crown fits EHS

Cyclones regional champs for second consecutive year

By Matt Hill

STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   It looked like the Johnson County Longhorns were going win their first regional title in 20 years at Treadway Gym Thursday night, but the fourth quarter turned everything around for the Elizabethton Cyclones.
   A 24-4 spurt in the final period erased a 14-point Longhorn lead, and propelled the Cyclones to a 55-49 victory in the Region I-AA championship game.
   The victory gives the Cyclones their second-straight regional championship, and will allow them to host in the substate Monday night.
   The Longhorns, who will travel to the Knoxville area for their substate round, gave Elizabethton a huge scare before the Cyclones turned it around in the final period.
   "I give Mountain City a great deal of credit," EHS head coach Tony Hardin said. "They came in here coming off a high, and they just outplayed us for a half. I thought we lost our composure, and they had a lot to do with that. They came with their best shot. They should be extremely proud and they will represent our conference very, very well.
   "Foul trouble hurt us early, but the big thing that hurt us was our composure. And then the same thing that hurt us, was the reason we won.
   Fourth quarter we held our composure, we were getting the ball where we needed to be, big players making big shots, that's what you want in big games."
   One reason why the Cyclones were able to turn the corner was their ability to get to the foul line. Elizabethton went 13-of-19 from the foul line in the fourth quarter, while Johnson County didn't attempt one shot from the charity stripe in the final period.
   "With their defense, they were forcing us to have to take the ball to the hole and drive," Hardin said. "That's what is going to happen, you're going to draw fouls."
   Two of Johnson County's go-to-players, Matt Cornett and Michael Lipford, each fouled out early in the fourth quarter. That spelled big trouble for the Longhorns, as head coach Austin Atwood was forced to clear his bench.
   "They really played hard all week," Atwood said. "We got a little fatigued in the fourth quarter, of course the officials didn't help anything. I think Tommy got a little tired, and a lot of our turnovers were fatigue turnovers. But I credit Elizabethton, they never quit. They pressured and they played well. I'm not going to take anything away from them. But I think fatigue played a big part in it."
   After rallying all the way back, it was Jordan Lambert that put the Cyclones over the top. With EHS down 49-48 with 1:30 to go, Lambert stepped to the foul line and nailed two big free-throws.
   39 seconds later, Lambert hit two more shots from the charity stripe to give the Cyclones a 52-49 advantage with just 51 seconds left.
   The Cyclones continued to make stops on the defensive end, and when Lester Bailey nailed a jumper with seven seconds left, Elizabethton had completed the miraculous comeback.
   Lambert wasn't surprised his team rallied back to win.
   "As much adversity as we've gone through this year, I think we were prepared for that," Lambert said about the big deficit. "I know we didn't play well at all in the first half, but we just came out in the second half with our hearts. We just wanted it. We just came out there and took it."
   Even though the Cyclones won the game, it was an incredible first three quarters by Johnson County. The defensive effort displayed in the upset win over Sullivan Central carried over into the first half.
   The Longhorns held the Cyclones to 16-of-42 shooting for the game and forced several key turnovers in the first two quarters.
   At the end of the first 16 minutes, Elizabethton had only 16 points.
   "We basically ran the same thing we ran against Central," Atwood said. "And it worked. Adam Johnson did a good job on Redd. Lipford didn't have as good of effort as I was hoping against B.J. Miller, but Miller is just so hard to guard. He uses screens well, and we didn't help off good like we had practiced.
   "We just got caught up in the moment a little bit. Bottom line, crucial part we had a few turnovers."
   Two Johnson County seniors, Tommy Short and Cornett, continued to play well. Cornett had 19 points on the night, while Short tallied 15.
   "We were so close to being able to host the substate at our house," Short said. "It's hard to even live with. We were that close."
   B.J. Miller topped Elizabethton with 18 points, while Bailey and Lambert tallied 13 and 10, respectively.
   Redd finished with 13 rebounds for EHS. Cornett had seven to top the Longhorns.
   The Cyclones get to spend Monday night at home, and will be favored to advance to the state tournament. The Cyclones fell at that point last year, but Hardin has erased it out of his mind.
   "We're just going out there and try to win," Hardin said. "When you get to this point, you can't worry about anything except going out and playing. We've just got to come in Monday, and be thankful we're playing at home, and just try to play hard and a little smarter than we did in the first half tonight."
   The Longhorns will be try to forget about the fourth quarter collapse, as they're still just one win away from the state tournament.
   "It's our fault if we don't come out ready to play," Atwood said. "If we don't have a good day Saturday, a good day Sunday, and play good on Monday, it's nobody's fault but ours."
   TOURNAMENT NOTES
   *Lambert was named MVP of the tournament, with Miller and Redd joining him on the All-Tournament team for Elizabethton. Cornett, Short and Shoun each made the squad for Johnson County.
   *Four technical fouls were called in the game, including one on both benches.